Memories of My Wonderful, Bold and Unusual Mother
by Jay Linthicum | 6 May 2022 |
This was originally presented by Jay during a Mother’s Day Sabbath at the Gathering Place Sabbath School, Loma Linda University Church.
It being the time of the year when we honor our mothers, I thought I would tell you some stories about my remarkable mom.
Once my folks got me some baby ducks for Easter. Baby ducks are cute little yellow fluffy things when they are brand new but they grow up to be big white ducks that go quack-quack and poo-poo all around the neighborhood, all the time. Reflecting now, as an adult, to get the baby ducks was probably not a good decision because the neighborhood where we lived was comprised of small two-bedroom duplexes surrounded by other small two-bedroom duplexes. But it was probably the idea of my mother, who often had impulsive notions to do things.
I was about five years old, and one night my mom was awakened by lots of quacking and commotion outside. Peering through the kitchen window she saw that the parents of one of my friends (her name was Penelope and she had beautiful long blonde hair and a neat Peter Pan puppet that I especially liked) had let their pet boxer out to get some exercise after being cooped up in their small two-bedroom duplex all day. The boxer discovered my ducks and decided to take them home as trophies. My mom, not pleased at this treacherous and dastardly turn of events, hopped in our 1950 Buick and drove through the neighborhood chasing the unfortunate beast. I doubt, knowing my mom, that she let the occasional curb or shrub that appeared in her headlights get in her way.
As you can see, you didn’t hurt one of my mom’s cubs. If you didn’t get scratched, you were likely to at least get chased.
Then there was the time when she made the train conductor stop the train out in the middle of nowhere so she, with her eight-year-old son in tow, could get off.
We had gone to visit an old family friend, Bill Fink and family, who lived in Kirkwood, Missouri. Kirkwood once had a thriving train depot, but now the depot had been closed. The train didn’t stop there anymore; it detrained the Kirkwood passengers at the Webster Groves depot. Knowing the Kirkwood depot was long since closed, Bill was waiting at Webster Groves, which he knew was still open and where he knew we would be getting off.
Or should be getting off—leaving him surprised when we didn’t!
Fortunately the closed Kirkwood depot phone booth was still open. Remember, back then, that only the comic book detective Dick Tracy had anything close to a cell phone (his two-way wrist radio). Following phone calls to Bill’s home by both my mom, who wanted to know where Bill was, and by Bill, wanting to know where my mom was, Bill finally arrived at the closed Kirkwood train station to pick us up.
Riding in his car on the way to his house I wondered if we were going to survive the trip, because he could hardly steer the car from laughing so hard and saying, over and over, “Only Mary Linthicum could make a conductor stop the damn train [his words, not mine!] in the middle of nowhere so she could get off.”
When my mom took to one of her notions, it didn’t do much good to argue with her. She could even stop trains in mid-flight.
It dawned on me as I was writing this that I really don’t remember all the details. I am sure there must have been some noticeable back-and-forth verbal exchange between my mother and the astonished conductor, and probably a lot of murmurs and stares from the other passengers, which would embarrass an average eight-year-old child caught up in the middle of such an outlandish event on a traveling train. Most children would remember such a remarkable occurrence in their life, but I don’t remember much about it because it really wasn’t all that remarkable. With my mother it was actually quite normal. I wish I could have heard what the train engineer said when the conductor told him that “We need to stop the train because Frank Linthicum’s wife wants to get off.”
I have also wondered what my dad may have heard about the event, because we always traveled for free on the train. My dad, grandfather, and uncle were all locomotive engineers, and whenever I traveled on the train the conductor would recognize my last name on my pass and ask if I was related to Frank or Rex or Claud. I wonder if my dad later heard about this event from some of his railroad buddies.
And then there was the time my mom shot off a rifle in the kitchen, which levitated my father and the family poodle three feet in the air from their napping spot on the sofa. Maybe growing up with a mom like this is why there aren’t many circumstances in this life which embarrass me too much.
Later, I remember making a vacation trip home from college. Thanksgiving? Christmas? I don’t remember because it was another one of those unremarkable events, with my dad informing me casually that he had to go down to the courthouse because my mom had refused to. She had received a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, and had in her own gentle way informed the issuing officer that she had in fact stopped. Since I know that my mom would never lie, she therefore probably had come to a complete stop. But when the appointed court day came, she said to my father, “I am not about to go down there!” So my dad said he had to go down himself and break the news to the judge.
My father had many virtues. He was not a person of many words. He was not an athlete but more of what you would call a sportsman. In his youth he had considered becoming a professional golfer and had four holes-in-one in his brief youthful golfing lifetime. But I think his greatest virtue was patience.
Crafty, capable, and coffee-loving
My mom was very crafty, and knitted me some extremely complicated sweaters and, upon my request, fabricated a red corduroy sport coat with black leather collar and black leather patches on the elbows. When I was in high school she was quite successful at selling real estate, and as one of her commissions received two lakefront lots on Table Rock Lake. For those of you who don’t know where that is, that is where Branson is. We took on the project of building a two-bedroom cabin there, and my mom helped with some of the construction and practically shingled the whole roof herself.
My mom was addicted to cigarettes and coffee, and we never went anywhere in the car without the coffee sloshing along in a cup. On long trips we took a thermos, and in my brief life as a youngster I made many of my own trips into restaurants with a couple of dollars in hand and the instructions, “Jay Dee, run in and get the thermos filled.” I remember one morning after she had just awakened and come into the kitchen to start her coffee perking, fully aware that she was experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal from the caffeine, her remarking, a little chagrined, that she would wake with a headache until she had her coffee.
Remembering her experience with coffee has never made it difficult for me to pass a Starbucks with little remorse.
Character and church
I have kept a letter with one of her coffee cup stains on it, which was sent to my mother from a conference president, apologizing to my mother for whipping her brother with a rubber hose when he was my uncle’s teacher. Even though he couldn’t remember the incident he wrote, “Because it has come to my attention that the memory of the incident might be an obstacle to your becoming a member of the church, I want to do everything I can to make it right after all these years.” My mom’s response was, “How could he not remember it when he almost lost his job over it?”
I have no idea what could have caused her to be at this man’s house, but she once had occasion to visit with a local colporteur over some matter. When he made a snide remark about some mischief which had occurred long ago in my sister’s life, my mom reported to me, a little embarrassed about it all, “that she had chased him up on his own porch!” Like I say, you pester her cub and if you somehow elude the scratch, you will at least experience the chase.
Despite her distance from the church, when the time came that I showed some interest in attending Adventist schools, though I didn’t hear the conversation, I am sure—especially since my dad had no connection to the church whatsoever—she simply said, “We’re going to do this.”
Lest you think my mom was a very aberrant person, that’s not quite true. Though she was tough, I do remember one time her running and hiding behind my dad, although I can’t remember why. She was a pretty woman, and like all women she appreciated remembering her birthday, receiving flowers or a thoughtful Christmas gift, and being thought special.
Back to nature
Me being a child of the 60s—although not one to grab the flag and march through the streets as some of my friends did—I did nevertheless have some of that generation’s blood running through me, especially that generation’s inclination to pursue the back-to-nature impulse. “We are living in a mass-produced, everything-is-the-same, plastic society. More natural foods! More oil finishes on furniture and less lacquered finishes! More earth tones!” And in some cases, “Babies shouldn’t be born in a hospital, but in the forest, like God designed it!”
For me, this back-to-nature concept manifested itself in that I was fascinated with the concept of homesteading my own piece of land and building my own place with my own hands and surviving off the land, living off the land and plucking things from nature! I was naive to something my parents were fully aware of: that sometimes nature plucks back!
The only place where there was still enough uninhabited land needing to be populated with people was Canada, and with good fortune connecting me with someone whose father was an official with the Alberta, Canada Department of Interior, I soon acquired a map showing all Canadian land available for homesteading. There was quite a bit, actually. I wondered why.
Among her many virtues, she was an honest person. Listening to me carry on about all the magnificent possibilities, and watching me scouring my map day after day for just the right spot on the map she, like another Mary of long ago, hid all these things in her heart. Then, one day, as I was looking over my map spread out there upon the dining room table, she announced somewhat mysteriously and pensively, “You know, if you go up there, and I know where you are, I will have to tell them.”
What she was hiding in her heart were thoughts that I might be looking for a way to escape the Vietnam draft by zipping up to Canada as some did in those days, and that if I went up there, and the FBI came looking for me, and she knew where I was, she would have to tell them. Of course, no such ideas were going through my mind but, like all parents, you sometimes have to keep silent, hiding things in your heart, wondering what in the world is going on in the mind of your child.
Living in Loma Linda and teaching and working with a lot of children in this community, I have met a lot of moms. And I will tell you, there are some remarkable moms in this community. Some right here in this Sabbath School room today. Talented, hardworking, deeply committed to their families and the future of their children. Refined, polished, appropriately sophisticated, balanced, pretty. The kind of mothers that anyone would be proud to have. Even me. I have encountered folk who have experienced unsettling discomforts and have lingering complaints about their experiences with their moms and dads, too. I have learned about their feelings during a prayer request, or a sharing time in a Bible study group, or other similar friendship gathering. I wish everyone could have a great mom.
One day, for some reason, thinking about all this, the strange thought and image came to my mind: that if all the moms of the world were standing in front of me, and for some reason it was my job to pick which one I could for my mother, and I could choose any I wanted to be my mom, out of all the women in the crowd, when it came my turn, I would point to my mom and say, “I pick you.”
And I wish she were here today so I could tell her so. Thanks for all the moms of this world, who, in their own way, like most all parents, do the best they know how.
Jay Linthicum taught for 41 years in Adventist academies in Shelton, Nebraska; Glendale, California; and Loma Linda, California, and was cajoled to live near his grandchildren in Northern Idaho upon retirement. He is pictured here with grandson Isaac Jay Linthicum.